With the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals assembling this week in Jupiter, Florida, let’s look back one last time at Spring Training 2014.
Manager Mike Matheny, in the role for his third season, welcomed several important newcomers to the Cardinals spring training camp in February, 2014.
Coming off a PED suspension in Detroit, free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta had been signed to a controversial deal for four years, $53 million. Centerfielder Peter Bourjos and minor league outfield prospect Randal Grichuk arrived from the Angels for David Freese and Fernando Salas.
That trade triggered a move of Matt Carpenter from second base to third, with rookie Kolten Wong penciled in at second. Veteran Mark Ellis was signed as a free agent to compete with Wong for playing time.
The team leader in home runs in 2012-13, outfielder Carlos Beltran, joined the Yankees as a free agent. After missing the entire 2013 season due to injury, shortstop Rafael Furcal became a Miami Marlin.
On the pitching side, the only external addition was veteran reliever Pat Neshek, signed to a minor league deal.
There was only one change in the coaching staff. Assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina moved to Texas to become first base coach. He was replaced by former Cardinals second baseman David Bell.
The Cardinals exited 2014 spring training camp with the following 25-man roster.
|Starters (5)||Bullpen (7)||Infielders (5)|
|Lynn||Choate (L)||Adams (L)|
|Miller||Siegrist (L)||Wong (L)|
|J Kelly||Martinez||Carpenter (L)|
|Outfielders (3)||Bench (5)||DL (3)|
|Jay (L)||Descalso (L)||J Garcia|
Here is how the spring stories played out by position grouping.
For the second consecutive year, Garcia reported to camp with injury concerns, though hopes were higher in 2014 following his shoulder surgery the prior summer. The lefty was not ready to pitch in game action and opened the season on the 15-day disabled list.
The biggest competition in camp was for the fifth starter spot between Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly. The latter had to pitch his way out of the job and did not. With a five-inning no-hit beginning to his final spring game, Kelly was named the winner - despite Martinez having a better spring overall. The latter was returned to relief work.
While the six starters were very good, the middle of the bullpen struggled. Perhaps the most worrisome was Seth Maness, who yielded 11 runs in 11 2/3 frames. Non-roster invitee Neshek earned one relief spot.
Motte had yet to throw off a mound as camp opened due to his May 2013 Tommy John surgery and opened the season on the disabled list.
With just a few days of camp remaining, the Cards brought in another veteran right-handed reliever, David Aardsma. However, Aardsma was not ready and the last pen seat instead went to Keith Butler (8.38 spring ERA), apparently more by process of elimination than performance.
After two consecutive springs with the NL’s best ERA, the bullpen struggles dropped the Cards’ team mark to third-worst in the league at 5.27.
Coming off his embarrassing 2013 World Series pickoff at first base, Kolten Wong’s spring began slowly, but the second baseman picked up his game. By the end of camp, he was among the Grapefruit League’s offensive leaders in batting average (.375) and on-base percentage (.434) and appeared to take the second spot in the batting order. As we saw later, that shine wore off quickly once the regular season opened.
Newcomer Ellis missed a considerable number of spring games due to a knee injury. In one of the final Florida contests, the second baseman reinjured it and opened the season on the DL, creating a roster spot for Pete Kozma.
Among the infield regulars, only Matt Carpenter (.178) struggled at the plate. Early in camp, the club had announced a six-year contract with an option year for Carpenter and played him less often than in prior springs.
Moved to right field to replace Beltran and open up first base for Matt Adams was Allen Craig. Though Craig said he had no lingering effects from the Lisfranc injury that hobbled him all fall of 2013, his later results would suggest otherwise.
Expectations were high for top prospect Oscar Taveras, who had undergone ankle surgery in August 2013. He was only cleared to run as camp got underway and then suffered a hamstring injury and was soon shuffled off to minor league camp.
With Taveras unable to compete, outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk received extended looks in camp. Both performed admirably, with the former especially receiving rave reviews.
The major competitor to Jon Jay (.188) in centerfield, newcomer Bourjos, was given full clearance after his surgically-repaired wrist checked out ok. He went on to bat .324 in Florida.
Overall, the Cardinals offense was in the middle of the NL pack, batting .260, down 20 points from the prior spring.
Spring training results
On the field, the Cardinals fared well in Florida - except for when they took on the Marlins. St. Louis lost all six games against Miami, otherwise winning 11, losing seven and tying two. It was the club’s second losing spring in the last 11 years. The other was 2006, and that season ended up just fine.
Regular season debuts
All 25 players to make the Cardinals’ initial roster had prior MLB experience. However, 10 of them participated in their first Opening Day motorcade at Busch Stadium - seven homegrown Cardinals and three having come from the outside (Neshek, Peralta, Bourjos).
Of the seven farm system products, five are pitchers. Only three of the seven –Wacha, Maness and Adams – would remain with St. Louis the entire season. (Wacha missed considerable time on the disabled list, however.) The other four spent varying amounts of time back in Triple-A – Martinez, Wong, Butler and Kevin Siegrist.
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